When it comes to the American cultural landscape, baseball is still a vital part of it. The sport is one of the things that’s synonymous with summer and when a particular city’s team is doing well, the vibe is contagious with their most recent game being the subject of conversation on various street corners and in local establishments.
They call baseball “America’s Pastime” for a reason and its many aspects are celebrated through poems like “Casey at the Bat” and songs such as “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”. Abiding by the latter aesthetic is The Baseball Project, an alt-rock supergroup started by Steve Wynn of The Dream Syndicate and Scott McCaughey from The Minus 5 that features Peter Buck and Mike Mills from R.E.M. as well as Linda Pitmon from Filthy Friends. They’re going to be rounding the bases and more when they take the stage at the Ridgefield Playhouse on August 20 starting at 7 p.m.
Mills and I had a chance to talk ahead of the show about the band’s most recent album, about making music centered around the game of baseball, what makes The Baseball Project different for him as a musician, and other projects he has going on.
RD: Back on June 30th, The Baseball Project released a new album titled Grand Salami Time! with numerous tracks taking their names from baseball slang such as “The Yips” and “Uncle Charlie” while others revolve around certain topics such as the Negro Leagues legend Josh Gibson and the infamous Disco Demolition Night that happened at Comiskey Park in Chicago back in 1979. How would you describe the experience of making this album versus the other three The Baseball Project released previously?
MM: Well, they’re always fun to do because we’re all good friends and we really enjoy working & hanging out together. This album is special because we did it with our old friend Mitch Easter at his wonderful Fidelitorium Studios in Kernersville, North Carolina, so we got to hangout together with Mitch, who shares common sensibilities with us and it was super fun.
RD: When it comes to the songwriting and rehearsal process, is it easier or more difficult making music that abides by the singular theme of baseball?
MM: The thing about baseball is that it provides a lot of parallels to life. A lot of these songs have statistics and baseball-centric themes, but many of them have similar themes to what takes place in our everyday lives. That’s the fun thing about the game, the stories relate on a much broader spectrum than just baseball alone.
RD: Ok, I get that. Other than abiding by baseball as a theme, what makes being part of The Baseball Project different for you versus when you were part of R.E.M.?
MM: That’s apples and oranges, but one thing about The Baseball Project is that it’s not my band per say. I feel like this band belongs to Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey, they both write most of the songs and the band itself was their idea so I’m sort of a hired gun. I’m thrilled to be in a band with my friends, but I’m also thrilled to let them be in charge of things.
RD: I know you grew up in Macon, Georgia, so are you an Atlanta Braves fan?
MM: I am a Braves fan, absolutely.
RD: What are your thoughts on the team this year? They’re doing pretty well with being first place in their division and having the best record in the majors.
MM: They’ll make the playoffs and once you get into the playoffs then anything can happen. When they won the World Series in 2021, they might not have been the best team but they peaked at the right time. They lost to the Phillies last year and I don’t think the Phillies were a better team, but they were definitely coming in hot so I think they’ll make the playoffs but we’ll have to just see where fate takes them.
RD: I couldn’t agree more, it’s usually about who has the hot hand going into the playoffs. It’s just like you said, the Phillies weren’t the best team but they were the hottest team which is why they represented the National League in the World Series last season. What are your thoughts on the upcoming show at the Ridgefield Playhouse and after this tour with The Baseball Project what are your plans for the rest of the year?
MM: It’s funny, the last time we played in Connecticut we played with The Zambonis so it was a bill with a hockey band and a baseball band which was pretty cool. I’m thrilled for this tour we’re on, it’s been super fun and I’ve got a ton of things going on. They mostly revolve around a concerto I wrote for my friend Bobby McDuffie who is a violinist. It’s a concerto for a rock band with a violin and orchestra and we’re going to be performing it in a concert called “R.E.M. Explored” where the first half is symphonic arrangements of R.E.M. songs and the second half is the concerto. We have a few shows that are coming up later this year.
I’m also going to Spain with Big Star. We’re going to be performing the band’s first record and that’s going to be exciting as well.
The Baseball Project
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 E. Ridge Rd, Ridgefield, CT
Aug. 20 @ 7 p.m.